By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM, Mass. — A North Salem resident has contracted West Nile virus, health officials have announced, and the woman — who is in her 70s, — is continuing to recover in a rehabilitation facility after spending time last week in the intensive care unit at Salem Hospital.
The Salem Board of Health alerted residents to the diagnosis on Friday, after receiving confirmation from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
But Salem resident Maureen Carr said the West Nile patient, who is a member of her family, had received a West Nile diagnosis from a local doctor at Salem Hospital last Monday.
Carr said that her relative was very sick and was hospitalized in intensive care for three days. As the week wore on, the family became increasingly frustrated that Salem city officials were not letting residents know about the diagnosis.
“We feel people should have been notified sooner. Time is of the essence with something like this,” Carr said. “... I think it’s important that people know.”
Carr, who is a nurse practitioner, stressed that she spoke with The Salem News, sister paper of the Eagle-Tribune, on behalf of her family and not in a professional capacity.
The relative is still recovering in a local rehabilitation facility, Carr said. The family is certain she contracted the mosquito-borne virus in Salem, since she had not been outside the city recently.
“It’s just so sad. It happened so quickly, out of the blue,” Carr said. “This was an extremely healthy woman. ... She was at my son’s wedding a few weeks ago, dancing. We say our prayers and hope things turn around.”
The diagnosis marks the closest confirmation of a human case of West Nile virus to Cape Ann, where three of the four communities are not part of a regional network that regularly tests mosquitoes for West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis and carries out spraying programs when such cases are confirmed.
On Cape Ann, only Manchester is part of the Northeast Regional Mosquito Control District, and officials there carried out a spraying program on Sept. 5.
Health officials in Gloucester, Rockport and Essex have warned residents to take precautions against mosquitoes, West Nile and EEE in those communities, with confirmed positive West Nile tests in Beverly, Hamilton and elsewhere suggesting the mosquito-borne disease is likely present here as well.
Those precautions include clearing all standing water, which can be prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes, wearing long-sleeved and long-legged clothing, especially around dusk and at night, and avoiding wooded areas around dusk, as well.
Despite cooling temperatures, mosquitoes can remain prevalent until the season’s first hard frost, and that has not yet hit any parts of Cape Ann.
In Salem, city health agent Larry Ramdin said protocol dictates that the public is not notified of a West Nile diagnosis until test results from a local doctor can be confirmed by a state lab. The Salem Board of Health did not receive state confirmation until Friday, he said.
This marks the second human case of West Nile announced in Essex County this week. On Monday, state health officials said an Essex County man in his 60s contracted the virus, was hospitalized, released and is expected to be OK. Health officials did not release specifics about either patient because of patient privacy laws.
While West Nile virus can be fatal, the majority of people infected exhibit no symptoms. A small percentage have flu-like symptoms, and an even smaller percentage — less than 1 percent, health officials say — develop severe illness. People over 50 are more at risk of developing severe illness.
Last year, 33 cases of West Nile virus were reported in Massachusetts residents, according to state officials. Essex County had two human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, or EEE, last year, but no West Nile virus. Both diseases are carried by mosquitoes.
The confirmation of West Nile in Salem was the state’s fifth human case of the virus this year.
The state’s sixth case — also announced Friday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health — is a woman from Middlesex County in her 50s, who was never hospitalized.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.